Madras HC stays death penalty of Rajiv killers', gives govt. eight weeks to respond
Chennai, Aug.30 (ANI): The Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed the death penalty of three assassins of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi after hearing their review petitions presented by eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani here. The court also asked the central government to explain within two months (eight weeks) why it delayed in carrying out the death sentences for over eleven years.
The court order came days after President Pratibha Devisingh Patil had rejected the mercy petitions of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, and fixed September 9 as the date of execution.
All three had earlier sought to set aside the August 12 last order of the President,rejecting their mercy pleas and commute their death sentences to life on the ground of 'undue delay' in disposing of their mercy petitions.
Along with Tuesday's court order, the Tamil Nadu state assembly also passed a unanimous resolution asking President Patil to commute the death sentences on the three and grant them clemency immediately. The motion for the resolution was introduced by the Tamil Nadu Government, which is headed by AIADMK chief J.Jayalalithaa.
Earlier, Advocate N Chandrasekaran made a mention in the court of Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar this morning, seeking an early hearing of the petitions, following which the Judge agreed to hear them today.
In three separate petitions, the convicts also sought an interim injunction to stay their executions till disposal of their petitions.
They contended that their mercy pleas were with the President for 11 long years since April 26, 2000 before being rejected. They claimed 'an unwarranted, illegal and unconstitutional delay is caused by the President and the Union of India in the disposal of the mercy petition.'
"No explanation has been offered either for the delay in forwarding of the mercy petitions by the state government to the President or the delay in disposal by both the authorities," they contended.
They said they had sent fresh mercy petitions to the President on August 27.
The three convicts referred to the Supreme Court ruling in 'Madhu Mehta versus Union of India case, saying the Court had held that undue delay in execution of the death sentence would entitle the condemned person to approach the court under Art 32 (right to constitutional remedy) of the Constitution.
They contended that the apex court had held 'the court is entitled and indeed obliged to consider the question of inordinate delay in the light of all circumstances of a case to decide whether the execution of sentence should be carried out or should be altered into life imprisonment.
'Besides the Supreme Court had held 'speedy trial in criminal cases though may not be a fundamental right is implicit in the broad sweep and content of Article 21."
Speedy trial is part of one's fundamental right to life and liberty. This principle is no less important for the disposal of a mercy petition, they contended.
The mercy petitions were not placed before the council of ministers but only before the home ministry, which rejected them, they claimed and said the President should not have acted on the advice of the home ministry.
They contended that they had submitted letters to the President about the pendency of their mercy petitions. They said in Javed Ahmad vs State of Maharashtra (1985) an over two year delay in adjudication of the mercy petition was held sufficient to have the death penalty commuted to life.
Stating that the key conspirators, including LTTE chief Prabhakaran, Pottu Aman, Akila and Sivarasan had been killed, they submitted 'the crime as is well known was a political crime and in the changed political atmosphere, there is absolutely no possibility of recurrence of the crime' if they were permitted to live.
The convicted persons said the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions had given them hope they may be given an opportunity to live. We had 'therefore putting aside our agony and shadow of death equipped ourselves educationally so as to be useful to society and to our families'.
They claimed they had exhibited exemplary conduct in the last 20 years in prison. None of them had any previous criminal record and during the long imprisonment had not only been socially useful, but also helpful to all other inmates in the high security central prison at Vellore where they are lodged.
They said they have been living under the shadow of the hangman's noose for the last 11 years, during which period they had been kept in a single cell.
They submitted that the Apex Court had found that in their cases the offences for which they had been convicted were individual acts of crime and not against society at large.
The proposed execution of the death penalty, therefore, 'is most inhuman and shocks all canons of civilised norms', they claimed and said it was a fit case for the High Court to direct that the death sentence imposed on them be commuted to life imprisonment.
Janata Party president Subramanium Swamy, however, critised the court injunction, saying that the fact of the matter was that Rajiv Gandhi was killed by these people, and they deserved to be hanged. (ANI)
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